The first town meeting in Killingly of which there is existing record was held November 25th, 1728. But forty-four regularly admitted freemen were then reported, not half the adult male residents. Justice Joseph Leavens was moderator of that meeting. He was also chosen town clerk and first selectman. Eleazer Bateman, Isaac Cutler, Joseph Cady and Benjamin Bixby were also chosen townsmen; Robert Day, constable; Thomas Gould and Jonathan Clough, branders; Joseph Barret and John Russel, grand jurymen; Daniel Clark, Jabez Brooks, William Whitney, Israel Joslin, William Larned and Daniel Lawrence, surveyors; Daniel Waters, Andrew Phillips, Nathaniel Johnson and Jaazaniah Horsmor, listers; Benjamin Barret and Jacob Comins, fence viewers; John Hutchins, tithing man. Peter Aspinwall, James Leavens, Sampson Howe and Joseph Cady still remained in charge of the public lands of the town. The school moneys were proportioned to the two societies according to their respective lists. A year later a committee was appointed to lay out highways in Thompson parish, which was in 1730 recognized as a parish belonging to the town of Killingly, by an act of the assembly. The military company of the south part of Killingly was now re-organized with Ephraim Warren, captain; Isaac Cutler, lieutenant; and Samuel Danielson, ensign. Isaac Cutler, Sampson Howe and Mrs. Mary Lee were allowed to keep houses of public entertainment.
Mr. James Danielson, one of the early and enterprising settlers of Killingly, laid out a burial ground between the rivers, on his land, and was himself the first one to be buried in it. The inscription on the earliest stone in that ground is as follows
” In memory of the well beloved Mr. James Danielson, who, after he had served God and his generation faithfully many years in this life, did, with the holy disciple, lean himself upon the . breast of his Beloved, and sweetly fell asleep in the cradle of death, on the 22d day of January, A. D. 1728, in the 80th year of his age. ‘A saint carries the white stone of absolution in his bosom, and fears not the day of judgment.”‘
Mr. Danielson left a son Samuel in possession of his homestead and much landed property. Among his estate were five negroes, valued at six hundred pounds.
The first settler of South Killingly, Jacob Spalding, was thrown from his cart and instantly killed, in 1728. He left two young children, Simeon and Damaris. His widow afterward married Edward Stewart, a reputed scion of the royal family of Scotland. Shepard Fisk, afterward a prominent man in public affairs, settled near Killingly Centre prior to 1730. Daniel Lawrence, of Plainfield, settled on a farm in the Owaneco purchase, and title to land “‘south of Manhumsqueag bounds,” was confirmed to him. One of the first residents of Killingly hill was probably Noah, son of Joseph Leavens, who established himself on its southern extremity about 1740. The road over and west of the hill was often altered to suit the convenience of the inhabitants. Samuel Cutler was allowed to open his house for travelers in 1740. The tavern stand afterward known as Warren’s, at the fork of the roads, a half mile east of Cutler’s, was first occupied by John Felshaw in 1742. In the same year John Hutchins was licensed to keep a tavern in the south part of the town. Pounds were allowed in different neighborhoods for securing stray animals belonging to this or other towns, which were running at large over the commons of Killingly and becoming a source of great annoyance and damage to the people. In 1749, when by direction of assembly the bounds of the town, including Thompson parish, were more definitely settled and established than they had before been, the town then being divided into three societies, the taxable property in the north society (Thompson) amounted to £18,850; that in the middle society, £64,359; and that in the south society, £6,112.
Killingly was greatly disturbed in 1759, by the discovery of a gang of counterfeiters within her borders, engaged “in the vile crime of aiding in making counterfeit bills of credit.” A son of one of her most respectable citizens was implicated in this affair, convicted, and sentenced to perpetual confinement. A large number of his fellow townsmen interceded in his behalf, ” that they had known him from a child, and known him to be honest and regular, and took care of his aged father and mother, to as good acceptance as could be, and was in good credit among his neighbors, as little mistrusted as any young man in town, and were of opinion that he was over persuaded by evil minded persons.” Through these representations, and his own declaration that he had been importuned by a certain Frenchman and others, the assembly granted the prisoner liberty ” to remove to Killingly and there dwell and remain.”
In January, 1775, a number of public-spirited citizens secured from Reverend Aaron Brown and Sampson Howe a deed of about three acres of land adjoining the meeting house lot, for the benefit of the public as a common forever. In South Killingly affairs seem to have been less prosperous than in the middle and northern societies. Unity was wanting in the ecclesiastical affairs, three different churches claiming the field and struggling for existence there.
Captain John Felshaw, long prominent in town and public affairs, died at an advanced age, in 1782. His famous tavern was held for a time by Samuel Felshaw, and sold in 1797, to Captain Aaron Arnold, of Rhode Island. Business at this time was developing. A store was opened on the hill by Sampson Howe. William Basto engaged in the manufacture of bats. Stout chairs and excellent willow baskets were made by Jonathan and Joseph Buck. During the early part of the present century manufacturing received much attention, and a very considerable impulse was given to the business development of the town. This impulse was also manifested in other activities. The mineral resources of the town were sought out and brought before the public. The old Whetstone hills were found to enclose valuable quarries of freestone, suitable for building purposes. Rare and beautiful detached stones, as well as extensive quarries, were found on Breakneck hill. A rich bed of porcelain clay was discovered on Mashentuck hill, which was pronounced by good judges to equal the best French or Chinese clay. Indications of lead and still more valuable ores were also reported. These mineral treasures, however, have never been developed to any profitable degree. The quality of the clay proved unequal to what was anticipated, and a lack of facilities have prevented the realization of the sanguine expectations of those early years.
In 1836 the town had five post offices, all of which retained the town name, the cardinal points being used to distinguish four of them from the fifth, as well as from one another. At that time the Centre postmaster was J. Field; North, Luther Warren; East, H. Peckham; South, Cyrus Day; West, George Danielson.
The expense of taking care of the poor was in early years considerable of a burden upon the town, and measures were taken to avoid, as much as possible, the increase of that burden. The custom of farming out the poor to whoever would keep them at the lowest price was commonly practiced. During the latter part of the last century a work house appears to have been temporarily provided from year to year, and some citizen appointed to have charge of it. In this way the poor were made practically self-supporting. About 1833 a permanent house was secured, which was said to be a very poor house. An Indian woman, who went there to live, after the wind had demolished her own wigwam, approved the accommodations, saying, when asked how she liked her new home: “Pretty well, ‘cos we live just like Injuns.”
Among the first public movements of this town in the direction of providing highways within the limits of the present town, was the opening of a ” gangway,” which in fact was already there when the town was organized, in 1709, leading from Plainfield to Boston. This extended through the entire length of the town, connecting by a cross road with the ways to Hartford and Woodstock, at the fording place below the Great Falls of the Quinebaug. Its condition may be inferred from the tradition that when James Danielson’s negro was sent to Boston with a load of produce, he had made so little progress after a day’s journey that he went home to sleep the first night. The Providence way, after encircling the base of Killingly hill, wound back far to the north, past Isaac Cutler’s residence, enabling the inhabitants to procure boards from his saw mill, and helping to build up that remote section. Mr. Cutler was early allowed to keep a house of entertainment, and his tavern was noted as the last landmark of civilization, on the road from Connecticut to Providence. Other parts of the town were then only accommodated with rude bridle paths.
About the year 1729 the organization of the town seemed to take a fresh impetus, and among other matters that received renewed attention, the roads were remodelled and placed in better condition. Chestnut hill settlers were allowed a way from Sergeant Ebenezer Knight’s at the south end of the hill, northward over the hill to Lieutenant Isaac Cutler’s, ” as the road was laid out by Chestnut hill purchasers through their tract.” Bridle roads with gates for passing, crossing the hill, were also allowed from Ebenezer Knight’s to John Lorton’s, and from Ebenezer Brooks’ to Joseph Barret’s. A highway was also ordered from the bridge over Whetstone brook to the settlement in South Killingly, and a cart bridge over Little river in Daniel Lawrence’s field. In 1731, Captain Warren, Captain Howe and George Blanchard were appointed to perambulate the highway that comes from Plainfield, leading toward. Oxford,” remove nuisances and report needful alterations. This important road, communicating with Boston, Norwich and New London, was then thoroughly perambulated and surveyed, from John Hutchins’ on the south to Nathaniel Brown’s on the north-a distance of eighteen or twenty miles-and some important alterations suggested. Instead of winding westward around the base of Killingly hill, it was now carried ” to a heap of stones on a rock upon the hill,” facilitating settlement on this beautiful eminence.
In 1749 a road was laid out in the south part of the town, to accommodate the inhabitants traveling to the south meeting house, beginning on Voluntown line,” near the road now laid to the saw mill standing on Moosup,” and extending to the bridge over Whetstone brook. A bridle road: was also laid out from Daniel Waters’ to the south meeting house, and the road over the north side of Chestnut hill leading to “where the old meeting house stood,” was turned east of Enoch Moffatt’s house, over a brook, to the new house of worship. A road was completed directly from Providence to the south part of Killingly in 1750, and a new bridge built over the Quinebaug, near Captain Samuel Danielson’s. A committee was thereupon appointed to lay out a convenient road through the town from this bridge to the Providence highway. A road was also laid out from this convenient bridge northeast, to Five Mile river; also, one from the old burial place to the new meeting house on Killingly hill, and others in different parts of the town. A committee was appointed, December 1st, 1754, ” to view and survey our country roads, and take quit-claim deeds of all the persons who owned lands where the roads cross.” The road from Plainfield to Massachusetts line through the town received especial attention. Quitclaim deeds were received from John Hutchins and his sons, Joseph, Wyman, Ezra and Silas Hutchins, Willard Spalding, Samuel Danielson, Daniel Waters, Boaz Stearns, Daniel Davis and many others. The length of this road, as thus surveyed, was found to be. seventeen miles 250 rods.
In 1757 a road was laid out from Danielson’s bridge to Voluntown line, near a saw mill called John Priest’s. The bridge built by Samuel Cutler over the Quinebaug at the Falls, was next examined by the selectmen and found 11 rotten and defective, and not safe to pass over.” It was then voted, ” To build that part of the bridge that belongs to Killingly to build, Edward Converse to build it and proceed speedily to do the same.” In 1767 Briant and Nathaniel Brown and Benjamin Leavens were appointed “to join with Pomfret gentlemen in repairing the bridge called Danielson’s.” However well repaired, it was soon carried away by a freshet, and a new committee appointed in 1770, “to rebuild our part of the bridge at Cargill’s Mills, and view the Quinebaug above and below where Danielson’s bridge stood, and see where they could set a bridge.” William Danielson was allowed twenty-nine pounds for building half the latter bridge, and a new road was laid out from it to Voluntown. In 1774 the Quinebaug was bridged between Cargill’s and Danielson’s, near the residence of Deacon Simon Cotton.
A new road was laid out about 1795, from the country road near Doctor Hutchins’ dwelling house, running east to Mr. Day’s meeting house, through lands of Penuel and Zadoc Hutchins, Samuel Stearns, Wilson Kies, James Danielson and the sons of Deacon Jacob Spalding. The petition for an open highway through lands of William Torrey, heirs of Reverend John Fisk and others, was opposed for a time, but finally granted. A new road was also allowed from Jonathan and Philip Dexter’s to Cutler’s bridge, in the eastern part of the town. An act of the county court obliged the selectmen to lay out a road from the road near Edward Babbitt’s, on Chestnut hill, to the meeting house in the north parish. A jury met at Sampson Howe’s in December, 1799, and laid out a road from Captain John Day’s through lands of Carpenter, Alexander, Kelly, Leavens, Howe, Whipple and Warren. After much discussion it was decided, in 1801, ” to lay out a turnpike from the Norwich turnpike, in Pomfret, to the turnpike in Gloucester.” This Pomfret and Killingly turnpike, passing over Killingly hill by the meeting house, was accomplished in 1803, but the exhausted town declined to build half the new bridge needed for its accommodation till cited before the court to answer for its negligence. The bridge was then built, but not being built in a substantial and workmanlike manner, it was soon carried away by high water, and the town thus involved in fresh difficulties and arbitrations.
Many new roads were demanded for the accommodation of the manufacturing interests, in which this town was involved in the early part of the century. The town accepted a road laid out from Danielson’s Factory to the country road near the dwelling house of Solomon Sikes, at the same time declining responsibility for the bridge over Five Mile river, and voted not to oppose a road from Danielson’s to the house of Reverend Israel Day, and thence to Rhode Island line. This new road to Providence was very needful for the transportation of goods and cotton. The mercantile operations of Captain Alexander Gaston, who had removed from Sterling to South Killingly, were also greatly benefitted thereby. His flourishing store added greatly to the importance of South Killingly. He was accustomed to buy large quantities of goods in New York, and when his ships were expected to arrive in Providence, the farmers of this neighborhood would hurry down to haul them up to his place of business in Killingly.
The mill privilege on the Five Mile river, afterward occupied by “the Howe Factory,” was in 1760 improved by Jared Talbot and David Perry, who accommodated the neighborhood with sawing and grinding. In August, 1807, James Danielson, Zadoc and James Spalding asked liberty to build a dam on the Quinebaug, between Brooklyn and Killingly. The relations between the Windham towns and their Rhode Island neighbors had been always most intimate and friendly. Providence was their most accessible market. Their first public work was to open a way to that town. Now that the era of manufacturing was opening, those intimate relations were intensified. Killingly caught the spirit of manufacturing enterprise. Walter Paine and Israel Day of Providence, William Reed, Ira and Stephen Draper of Attleborough, Ebenezer and Comfort Tiffany, John Mason and Thaddeus Larned of Thompson, William Cundall, Sr. and Jr., joined with Danielson and Hutchins in the Danielsonville Manufacturing Company of Killingly.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889